World War II in Ukraine
Ukraine’s Contribution to the Victory over Nazism in Europe
Ukrainians made a major contribution to the victory over Nazism, becoming one of the victorious nations.
Millions of Ukrainians, with weapons in their hands, fought against Nazism during the war. Ukraine gave the Red Army: 7 Front and Army Commanders, 200 Generals, more than 6 million soldiers, NCO’s and officers.
About 120 thousand Ukrainians met the Nazis in September 1939 as part of the Polish Army. In subsequent years, more than 130 thousand Ukrainians fought in the armies of other anti-Hitler Allies (USA, Canada, France, Poland, and Czechoslovakia). Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fought Nazism in the resistance movement.
The total Ukrainian losses during the war are an estimated 8.1 million lives.
As a result of the fighting, more than 700 cities and towns were destroyed in Ukraine along with tens of thousands of villages. Kyiv was 85% destroyed, Kharkiv – 70%, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhia and Poltava suffered great devastation and Ternopil was almost completely destroyed. Nearly 2 million homes were destroyed which resulted in more than 10 million homeless people. Overall, Ukraine’s material losses in the war were 285 billion rubles or $100 billion.
During the Soviet retreat of 1941, 550 industrial companies, property and livestock from thousands of farms was taken from Ukraine along with farms and dozens of academic and educational facilities, cultural centers and historical valuables. Nearly 3.5 million inhabitants left the republic – skilled workers and professionals, scholars, intellectuals who gave their labour and intellectual force in the development of the military and economic potential of the USSR.
In order to gain support in Ukraine, in 1943 Stalin was forced to make certain concessions to Ukrainians. The Ukrainian Fronts were created, the government of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was formed on the basis of the People’s Commissars (Ministries) of Defence and Foreign Affairs.
In recognition of this Ukrainian contribution to the victory over Germany, Ukraine was included in one of the founding states of the United Nations.
The Ukrainians in the western Carpathian regions were the first during the interwar period, who in March 1939 did not wait for the annexation of their region by foreign powers but stood up with arms for their freedom against the aggression of foreign countries.
From 1 September 1939 onwards, the German Luftwaffe bombed Galicia and Volhynia.
During the Second World War, the front passed the whole of the Ukrainian territory twice. Through Kharkiv, the second largest city in the country, the front passed by four times.
Ukrainians became cannon fodder for two dictators – Hitler and Stalin. Every third man in the Red Army was lost (compared to every 20th in the British army). The reason for this terrible situation was simple – Stalin did not count the losses because, as he said: “Women can give birth to more children!”
The victims of this clash of two totalitarianisms were both the military and civilian Ukrainians, the area between the Carpathians and the Don River became known as the “Bloodlands.” That was the price Ukrainians paid for a lack of their own independent state.
Ukrainian Alexei Berest was one of those who put the Soviet flag on the Reichstag in Berlin, the Ukrainian Michael Strank – was one of the American Marines who raised the American flag at Iwo Jima. But only one army formation fought under the Ukrainian flag during the war – the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA).
Ukrainians were the first in pre-war Europe to defend their freedom with arms.
Even with full occupation, the Ukrainian struggle was not over: a powerful partisan movement came into force by the end of May 1939 and a single underground movement started in January 1940.
At dawn on 22 June 1941, German troops crossed the border. During the fighting along the border region of Dubno, Lutsk and Brody, Soviet troops were defeated. The Red Army actually lost their command and began the retreat to the Dnieper River.
At the same time, in Lviv, Lutsk, Stanislav, Dubno and in dozens of other cities in Western Ukraine there began a mass execution of political prisoners. During the first two weeks of the war, more than 21 thousand people were shot by the NKVD in the prisons of Western Ukraine. With the eastward departure of the Red Army, mass executions took place in Vinnytsia, Uman, Kyiv and other cities.
The retreat of the Red Army was accompanied by the use of the “scorched earth” tactics. Its need was declared by Stalin in a speech on 3 July 1941. Numerous resolutions of the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR and the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union ordered the destruction of everything that could not be evacuated to the eastern regions of the USSR including plant equipment, machinery, grain etc. One of the horrific crimes of the Stalin regime was the destruction of the Dnieper Dam by NKVD troops in August 1941. This resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Red Army soldiers and civilians who were nearby.
The Red Army’s fight in Ukraine in 1941 turned into a disaster. In August-October 1941, the Red Army in Ukraine was actually destroyed. The number of dead Soviet soldiers is still unknown. In encirclements (“cauldrons”) near Uman, Kyiv and Melitopol about 1 million Red Army soldiers were lost.
Only at the beginning of 1942 did Soviet command try to begin offensive operations, but they all ended in a crushing defeat for the Red Army. In May-July 1942, Soviet troops were defeated in Kerch, Sevastopol and Kharkiv. The Red Army lost 500 thousand soldiers as prisoners of war. By 22 July 1942, the entire territory of Ukraine was occupied by German troops and their allies.
During the occupation, Ukraine lost more than 5 million civilians, of which 1.5 million were Jews. Mass executions began from the first days of the German-Soviet war. Nazi Einsatzkommando groups almost completely destroyed the Jewish community in Lviv, Drohobych, Lutsk, Rivne, Zhytomyr, Kharkiv and dozens of other cities in Ukraine.
During the 1941-1943 Kyiv occupation, Babi Yar became the place of mass executions of civilians, prisoners of war and resistance movement members. In only two days – 29 to 30 September 1941 – the Nazis shot almost 34 thousand Jews at Babi Yar. The mass shootings at Babi Yar and the neighbouring Syrets Concentration Camp were continuously held until the liberation of Kyiv. During the years of the occupation, there were approximately 70,200 people shot at Babi Yar.
The Expulsion of the Nazis from Ukraine and Central Europe
In 1943, the armies of the anti-Hitler coalition, after their victories in Stalingrad and Al Alamein, began to release territory from Nazi occupation. In the second half of 1943 to the end of 1944, Ukraine became the main theatre of operations in the Eastern Front. In 1944, 50% of the Red Army was concentrated in Ukraine, including 80% of their tank and mechanized units.
The expulsion of the Nazis from Crimea ended on 12 May 1944 and a week later the Soviet government began the deportation of Crimean Tatars. They were accused of mass desertion at the beginning of the war and with rampant collaboration with the occupiers. There were also similar charges made against other people living in Crimea.
On 18 May 1944 the Soviet government began the forced eviction of all the Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. By early July, 225 thousand people were deported: 183 thousand Crimean Tatars, 12 thousand Bulgarians, 9.5 thousand Armenians, 15 thousand Greeks and 4 thousand other nationalities. Another 9 thousand Crimeans were exiled from the Red Army in 1945. Due to the deportation conditions, more than 30 thousand deportees were killed before the end of the war.
The World, Divided in Half
On the eve of the final defeat of the Third Reich, the leaders of the “Big Three” – Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill, met on 4-11 February 1945 at the Yalta Conference. According to the USSR, its decisions affirmed their right to western Ukraine and Belarus, lands that were detached from Poland in 1939.
As a result of these Yalta agreements, and later at Potsdam, Europe was divided into two parts: the liberation democratic West and the communist totalitarian East.
Ukrainians continued to suffer losses and after the war, mass repression continued until Stalin’s death. An organized resistance to Soviet rule in western Ukraine existed until 1954 and some clashes occurred until 1960. During the suppression of the national movement, about 500 thousand people were repressed (killed, imprisoned or deported).
Another 200 thousand Ukrainians who were in Western European Displaced Person’s Camps were not willing to return to the Soviet Union.
Embassy of Ukraine to the Republic of Cyprus